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Clinton, Netanyahu Offer Differing Views of Settlements Dispute


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are offering up differing views about Israel's recently announced housing plans for East Jerusalem. Meanwhile, at a Monday conference in Washington, the two sides suggested that the spat was behind them and voiced confidence in the strength of the bilateral relationship.

During an evening address to the pro-Israel U.S. lobbying group AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee), Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opened by saying the United States and Israel are fired by the same ideals and inspired by the same dreams. He ended on the same theme -- voicing his confidence that the United States and Israel will always stand together.

"As the world faces monumental challenges, I know that America and Israel will face them together," he said.

But, when it came to Israel's recently announced plans to build new housing in Jerusalem, Mr. Netanyahu showed little sign of flexibility. "The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 years ago. And, the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today. Jerusalem is not a settlement. It is a capital," he said.

Israel's new housing plans for East Jerusalem -- the part of the city Palestinians want for a future capital -- drew an angry response from the Obama administration.

Earlier on Monday, Secretary Clinton renewed that disapproval, when she told the same audience that Israel's land policies in areas claimed by the Palestinians undermine American credibility as a mediator and endanger proximity talks.

Clinton says the United States expects Israel and the Palestinians to show flexibility.

Reaffirming U.S. commitment to Israel, Clinton urged the Jewish state to make difficult choices for peace.

In his address, Mr. Netanyahu said that, although Israel cherishes its homeland, it also recognizes that Palestinians live there, as well.

"We don't want to govern them. We don't want to rule them. We want them as our neighbors, living freely in security, dignity and peace," he said.

Mr. Netanyahu urged Palestinian leaders to sit down and hold talks with Israel and help build mutual trust necessary to forging a common future.

He said "Of course the United States can help the parties resolve their problems. But it cannot solve the problems for the parties. Peace cannot be imposed from the outside. It can only come through direct negotiations in which we develop mutual trust."

Mr. Netanyahu will meet with President Barack Obama, Tuesday evening. The invitation to meet at the White House was delivered by special Middle East envoy George Mitchell, who met Mr. Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Sunday.

The two both touched on the threat that a nuclear-armed Iran poses to Israel.

Mr. Netanyahu warns that a radical Iranian government, armed with nuclear weapons, could bring an end to nuclear peace that the world has enjoyed for the last 65 years.

"Israel thus expects the international community to act swiftly and to act decisively to thwart this danger. But we always reserve the right of self-defense," he said.

Iran denies that it is trying to build nuclear weapons, but Israel views the program as a threat to its existence.

Although its nuclear program is a state secret, Israel is widely believed to have a nuclear arsenal.

Earlier Monday, Clinton said unsuccessful U.S. efforts at Iranian engagement have stripped Tehran's leaders of what she calls "their usual excuses" and shown that Tehran is responsible for the nuclear impasse.

She says the U.S. aim is not for ineffective sanctions against Iran, but sanctions "that will bite" and she spoke of a growing international consensus to pressure Iran to change course.

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